Lawmakers in Washington are considering legislation that would prohibit individual states from requiring labels on foods made with genetically modified organisms unless the Food and Drug Administration finds that the products pose a safety threat.
The issue was raised at a hearing held by the U.S. House Commerce Committee. Backers of food produced with GMOs touted the benefits of these products, while supporters of Vermont's mandatory GMO labeling law stressed the importance of giving consumers important information about the food that they buy.
Michael Landa is the director of the Center for Food Safety at the FDA. He says GMOs are used in more than 80 percent of all processed food products. Landa says these products are perfectly safe.
"Based on our evaluations we are confident that the GE foods in the U.S. marketplace today are as safe as their conventionally bred counterparts," said Landa.
Shelburne Representative Kate Webb is the lead sponsor of the Vermont law which goes into effect in 2016. She argued that her legislation should be viewed as a consumer right to know issue.
"Why is it that Vermont wants this right? It's about transparency and truth in labeling,” said Webb. “There is nothing in our law that restricts anyone from producing or selling genetically engineered products. There's nothing in our law that says that it is good or bad."
Scott Faber of the Environmental Working Group also defended Vermont's law.
"In the absence of leadership from FDA, we believe that states should and can act to require a mandatory disclosure,” said Faber. “Congress has long recognized a role for the states, a leading role for the states, in food labeling."
Stacey Forshee is the director of the Kansas Farm Bureau. She doesn't like Vermont's law because she says it implies that there's something unsafe about food produced with GMOs.
"Labeling a safe product to me as a consumer just does not make any sense,” said Forshee. “Making a mandatory label is going to mislead consumers into thinking that it is unsafe which we have heard today that that is wrong."
Congressman Peter Welch strongly opposes the legislation that bans states from enacting their own food labeling laws:
"It's not a comment about the science,” said Welch. “What it is, is the fear of the chemical companies that there will be a consumer rejection of what they're doing. And isn't that the right of the consumers to make that decision?"
Vermont's labeling law is being challenged in court by several national food groups and Welch says passage of the federal bill will undermine the state's legal arguments in that lawsuit.